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Oil: Yes on P, No on O

Stripped of all the considerable rhetoric, the issue Los Angeles voters face in deciding on city ballot Propositions O and P is whether Occidental Petroleum Corp. should be allowed to do what it already has won permission to do from the city of Los Angeles and the California Coastal Commission: to drill two exploratory oil wells from a two-acre site adjacent to the Pacific Coast Highway in Pacific Palisades.

The Times is a strong advocate of coastal protection and opposes oil drilling in special natural areas. But in this case, we believe the city should honor its commitment to Occidental and therefore urge a no vote on Proposition O and a yes vote on Proposition P on Nov. 8.

For the record:
12:00 AM, Nov. 03, 1988 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday November 3, 1988 Home Edition Metro Part 2 Page 6 Column 5 Letters Desk 3 inches; 101 words Type of Material: Correction
An editorial in Oct. 19 editions of The Times incorrectly implied that if Proposition P is approved by Los Angeles voters Tuesday, Occidental Petroleum Corp. would have to get specific new city authorization to drill production wells at its Pacific Palisades site. Proposition P in fact would give Occidental authority for both exploratory and production wells. Some further city permits would be required before Occidental could drill production wells, but those actions are considered routine in nature. The firm’s present authority from the California Coastal Commission is for the drilling of exploratory wells only and Occidental would have to get full commission approval to proceed with any production wells.

The wells would not destroy Will Rogers state beach, as opponents claim. The project would not lead to offshore drilling in Santa Monica Bay. The drilling operation would not be subject to the sort of explosion that destroyed a North Sea offshore rig depicted in the opponents’ advertising. There is no indication that the danger of an earthquake is any greater in the Palisades than at hundreds of other oil well sites in both Los Angeles and Orange counties, some of them just as close to the beach. The threat of a landslide from the Palisades bluffs has been minimized by Occidental’s construction of a drainage system, plus the fact that this bluff already slid, three decades ago.

In an ideal world, it would be preferable to drill for oil only in industrialized areas and not near a popular state beach. But this is where the oil happens to be, somewhere between 25 million and 60 million barrels of it. Occidental has negotiated with the city for nearly two decades for permission to drill on this site. The firm traded its original drilling location in nearby Potrero Canyon--land the city wanted for a park--to the city for the Pacific Coast Highway land with the understanding Occidental could drill there.

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The project has been approved three times by the City Council over the opposition, primarily, of Palisades-area residents, although the drill rig would be visible to only a handfull of homeowners living on the very edge of the bluffs above. If Proposition P passes, Occidental will be permitted to proceed with two exploratory wells as authorized by the city and state. Should the firm then desire to drill production wells--as many as 60 of them--the firm will have to return to the city and the Coastal Commission for additional permits.

This site is hardly wilderness. More than 50,000 autos daily travel the Pacific Coast Highway separating the drill site from the beach and more than that on busy beach weekends. The nearest neighbor to the Occidental site to the north is a trailer court. The drill rig, camouflaged as a California mission bell tower, would be across the road from the narrowest portion of Will Rogers State Beach. It would hardly be visible to most beach users, and then only when they are looking away from the ocean and toward the bluffs. If no drilling is allowed, the opposition proposes the land be used as a parking lot. This would generate even more new traffic on Pacific Coast Highway than that created by the drilling project, which has been one of the opponents’ arguments against Occidental.

When opponents finally failed to block the Palisades project in the City Council, the Coastal Commission and the state Supreme Court, they mounted an initiative campaign that resulted in Proposition O to repeal the Council action. The campaign titled “Citizens for a Livable Los Angeles” is led by Councilmen Marvin Braude, a longtime opponent of Occidental on this issue, and Zev Yaroslavsky, the leader of Westside slow-growth forces and probable candidate for mayor next year. In a political counterstroke, Occidental formed the “Los Angeles Public and Coastal Protection Committee” to mount its own initiative, Proposition P, to authorize the “Palisades Inland Energy Project” under the conditions already set by the city and state.

Should both measures pass, the one with the most votes would prevail. If both are defeated, or just Proposition O, the project would proceed under the existing city and state authorization.

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This has been a particularly nasty campaign. Both sides have engaged in highly exaggerated and deceitful claims and have exchanged charges of elitism bordering on class warfare with ugly racial overtones. The basic fact, however, is that Occidental pursued its project through the legitimate channels of government over a period of about 20 years, altering and refining its proposal at considerable cost to meet rigid environmental and safety restrictions. The voters of Los Angeles should require the city to honor its legal commitment by defeating Proposition O and approving Proposition P.


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